2018 is a very different looking grid for the LMP2 class. One year ago, Rebellion battled Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota for LMP2 class honours, and JCDC even led the race overall for several hours.
A year later and Rebellion have stepped up to LMP1, and SMP Racing and Manor have followed. Jackie Chan DC Racing have stayed in LMP2, but the super-team of last year has largely moved on. Despite this, 2018 still looks like it’ll be a good year for LMP2. In no particular order, here’s our look at this years class.
Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota
DC Racing has had many names in the various series they’ve competed in over the last 12 months. The whole point was to gain as many invitational entries to Le Mans as possible – and it worked, as the entry list sees 4 Jackie Chan DC Racing Cars on the entry list this year. But it’s not quite as simple as that.
The first set, #37 and #38 are again Oreca 07 chassis to be run by Jota Sport and are full-time regulars in the FIA WEC. The Might #38 is being run with Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stephane Richelmi. Despite finishing second at Spa, the team collected full points due to G-Drive not being a full season entry.
The #37 car is the all Malaysian entry of Jazeman Jaafar, Werion Tan and Nabil Jeffri. With no disrespect meant to the #37 crew, they aren’t as strong as the #38 but only finished a lap off the lead at Spa.
The second set of cars, the #33 and #34 are being run by Oak Racing. So not surprisingly, these are Ligier JS P217s rather than the traditional Oreca. Pierre Nicolet, son of Onroak President Jacques, joins DC Racing owner David Cheng in the #33. Nicolas Boulle rounds off that car.
The #34 is very interesting – Ricky Taylor, Come Ledogar and David Heinemeier-Hansson. If it wasn’t for the fact that this team hasn’t had any experience together, I’d have considered them favourites for the win. Ricky Taylor is a known superstar and Come Ledogar has been nothing but impressive in the McLaren GT3 cars. DHH had a superb 2017 season with Rebellion in WEC, putting in perhaps the best drive of his career at Shanghai. If they can mesh together well, the #34 will be a strong car.
It’s always complicated when it comes to Roman Rusinovs team. The man has a level of passion for motorsport that is rarely matched. Certainly, he has more passion than patience and he demands results and isn’t afraid to move his branding and money around every year to achieve it.
This year there are once again two teams operating G-Drive branded cars. They may look identical, and Rusinov may be effectively in charge of both of them, but they are separate teams.
The #26 car Oreca 07 is being operated by TDS Racing and has Roman himself at the wheel. Ex-F1 star Jean-Eric Vergne joins the Russian, and the third seat will be filled by Andrea Pizzitola. The car got off to a perfect start to the year with a victory at the WEC race at Spa and the ELMS race at Monza. The team don’t score points in the WEC due to being a part-time runner in that series, but they currently lead the ELMS LMP2 table. The #26 may be the favourite for a class win this year.
The second car is the #40 Oreca 07 and is being run by Graff Racing. This car is more of a branding exercise than the #26 and retains the Graff regulars James Allen (not that James Allen), Enzo Guibbert and Jose Gutierrez. The #40 hasn’t enjoyed the same success so far as the #26, sitting 9th in the ELMS Standings.
Signatech return to Le Mans with one of those Orecas with stickers on that we have to call an Alpine. In reality, it’s an Oreca 07 chassis with the same Gibson engine in the back as the rest of the LMP2 field.
With the reduction of Toyota cars, Nicolas Lapierre competes with Signatech at Le Mans this year and is joined by the always quick Andre Negrao. The Silver portion of the team is made up of Frenchman Pierre Thiriet. After parting ways with G-Drive and TDS, the amateur driver has taken his money to Signatech. Thiriet is always one of those amateur drivers that skirts around the possibility of being Gold rated but he retains Silver status for another year.
The combination worked well, with the #36 finishing third at Spa. This car is one of the favourites for victory.
Aside from running the primary G-Drive car, TDS have their own branded car again this year and it comes with a familiar driver lineup. Ex-Audi driver Loic Duval is joined by the ever-improving Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere.
The team had an unfortunate 2017 race, with Vaxiviere causing a significant accident for the Risi Competizione Ferrari. 2018 is a chance to redeem themselves.
Racing Team Nederlands
This team was quite the surprise during the WEC race at Spa. Although technical issues took them out of contention for the win early, the car ran strongly and led the race in the hands of Guido van der Garde. Was this all down to Guido, or is the updated Dallara kit better than expected?
van der Garde is joined by Dutch legend Jan Lammers and Jumbo Supermarkets owner Frits van Eerd. If the Dallara chassis runs well then there’s an outside shot that this car could cause an upset.
Larbre secured a Ligier chassis and a full-time WEC entry for this year, but realistically it’s not looking like it will be their year. Fernando Rees does not rejoin the team, vacating his seat for a paying driver.
Erwin Creed, Romano Ricci and Thomas Dagoneau, three Bronze rated drivers, will pilot the car. Under the circumstances, a trouble-free run and a solid finish would be a good result for Larbre.
The United Autosports campaign very much hinges on the Ligier JS P217 joker upgrade package. As always, the United drivers are up to the task and includes a few superstars.
#22 car will see Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul di Resta drive. Phil Hanson is a more than capable amateur driver, and Albuquerque is a sports car superstar nowadays. di Resta has less sportscar experience and it was hard to judge his performance at Daytona. If the Ligier has caught the Oreca, then this is another car worth watching.
The sister #32 entry will be driven by Hugo de Sadeller, Will Owen and Juan Pablo Montoya. As if including di Resta in the team wasn’t enough, Juan Pablo is here too!
Montoya brings plenty of experience, but his recent Acura Factory running will be the most crucial. Perhaps not as strong as the #22, but still worth watching.
Despite entering two BR1s into the LMP1 class, SMP returns to LMP2 with a Dallara P217 once again. Regular SMP driver Viktor Shytar, Harrison Newey (son of Adrian) and ELMS winner Norman Nato are listed to drive the car.
This is perhaps one of the most interesting lineups of the year. All three drivers are Silver, but you wouldn’t know it. Shytar has always been quick, Newey has come a long way during his Asian Le Mans Series run with JCDC Racing, and Norman Nato took a surprise victory at Paul Ricard with the Racing Engineering team.
Perhaps the car isn’t in the running for an overall win, but it’s an interesting lineup none-the-less.
Panis Barthez Competition
After a successful year with Rebellion, Silver driver Julian Canal joins Panis Barthez for 2018. Canal is perhaps as good as a driver can be when Silver rated. Thimothe Buret and ex-F1 and WRT Audi driver Will Stevens complete the line-up. At risk of repeating myself, this is another car worth watching.
Algarve Pro returns with a Ligier JS P217 again. American Mark Patterson, Ate de Jong and Tacksung Kim. The team are unlikely to make huge ripples in the race, but an uneventful run would be considered a good showing.
Like SMP, DragonSpeed have chosen to run in two classes this year. The team brings the Oreca 07 to Le Mans but requires a completely fresh driver lineup due to the regulars being committed to the LMP1 project.
Roberto Gonzales and Nat Berthon are joined by Pastor Maldonado. The jokes and comments are obvious, but endurance racing is a different mindset to F1, so we’ll see how that all shakes out.
Like TDS Racing, Graff are running a G-Drive branded machine and one of their own. The second Graff car is SO24 branded and will be driven by Jonathon Hirschi, Tristan Gommendy and Vincent Capillaire.
It’s a strong team without a doubt but let’s not have any thumbs up to Toyota drivers playing twists in this year’s race.
Cetilar Villorba Corse
Cetilar Villorba Corse are back, one year on from their debut event. Like many other ELMS teams, Villorba Corse are a team that have flirted with victories and good results, only to see them fall away as the race goes on.
For 2018, Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Sernagiotto and Felipe Nasr hope to change that.
IDEC Sport secured a single entry for an Oreca 07 for this years event, despite running 2 cars in the European Le Mans Series.
Paul-Loup Chatin, Paul Lafargue and Memo Rojas are listed to drive. If the non-Oreca chassis are not up to speed, this car could upset some of the strong Ligier and Dallara runners.
Reports of the Eurasia Motorsport entry being “sold” to Krohn Racing were not strictly true, however, it’s clear that the teams will work together.
Tracy Krohn is onboard the car with regular co-driver Nic Jonsson. Andrea Bertolini, who is part of the Krohn Racing Ferrari GTE lineup, also moves into the car with Tracy. Unlike previous Krohn Racing entries, which were operated by Greaves Motorsport, this years car is retained by Eurasia, with just the driving duties being taken by the Krohn drivers.
The list of LMP2 reserves has decrease dramatically. Originally KCMG, High Class Racing, Repsol Racing, a second IDEC Sport car, ARC Bratislava and a Riley MK30 were on the list. However, when the entry list was published last week, the only LMP2 left was High Class Racing
ARC Bratislava were unhappy with their position on the reserve list so chose to go elsewhere, so we know that one is gone. IDEC Sport got one entry, so it’s not unreasonable to assume they pulled the second. Realistically the Riley was never going to make it on the entry list. But what of the others?
Rumours were that KCMG were told to prepare for a Le Mans entry should the Manor entry fall through, however, the entry has been pulled along with the Racing Engineering entry.
Given the potential issues with the LMP1 class, it’s not unreasonable that High Class Racing could get to enter their first Le Mans 24 Hours after two years on the reserve list.
As things stand, it doesn’t appear that the Joker upgrades have really had much of an effect. We’ve seen 2 ELMS races and a WEC race this year and every podium slot has been locked out by an Oreca 07. In fact, no non-Oreca has finished higher than 7th in ACO LMP2 Competition so far this year.
However, the Racing Team Nederland Dallara did lead Spa on pace before technical issues took it into the garage. Was this Guido van der Garde’s doing, or was this an actual performance increase from the Dallara?
What does the ACO do if the Dallara and Ligier are still off the pace of the Oreca after the upgrades? What is to be done about the Riley? The ACO has some difficult questions to answer right now.
LMP2 is the only class with a tyre war this year. Whilst much is said about the quality of Michelin tyres, it does seem that Dunlop is the choice of most in the LMP2 class.
Michelin runners are Panis Barthez, Racing Team Nederland, DragonSpeed, IDEC Sport and Larbre Competition. The rest of the field are on Dunlops.
Tyre wars have a habit of being huge factors or no factors in the race, without much falling in-between. In the dry, there probably won’t be a huge difference but wet weather may be another story, as Michelin tend to run strong in the wet. We’ll have to wait closer to the time to see if rain will be a factor.